“Have humility in knowing that you’re not as great as you probably think you are – with all your flaws – but carry on and do your job.”
Senior Editor | Jakarta Post
On finding wisdom in a time of information, achieving unity through freedom, and advice to his younger self.
Our age, like many that have come before us, is rife with boundless intrigue and complexity brought by the continual birth of new information at every moment, of every day. The stark difference we see today however is in the great magnitude and speed at which this reality is unfolding; there are simply more of us, digesting more information, at a rate faster than ever before.
As a seemingly natural consequence, it has become easy to assume that passive consumption of information automatically renders to more wisdom into the world – but that rarely is the case.
If anything, our time, more than ever, yearns for men and women who can give proper context and interpretation of information to transmute into deeper understanding of the human condition.
Few occupations in society house the responsibility of such a task as journalism; a profession that is, today, largely predicated on speed of reporting, often at the expense of accuracy and true wisdom.
Here in Indonesia, sits a man who has stood in the middle of this dynamic for over three decades. A former Indonesian correspondent for Reuters and Agence France-Presse, and Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2003/4, Endy Bayuni currently stands as Senior Editor of the Jakarta Post – one of Indonesia’s oldest and most credible English newspapers.
Manusia had the privilege of interviewing Endy at this year’s Ubud Readers and Writers Festival. Calm, composed and thoughtful; he recognizes a dire need for courage in journalists to transcend the habitual churning of cold and objective facts, and instead, learn to convey purpose, with piercing insight into the greatest questions of humanity through explorative and engaging storytelling.
It is a responsibility he feels, is owed to the public, and to the world at large – a perspective many of us can find solace in. Endy also shares a personal view on how we can move closer to unity, reflects on what he has loved most in his life as a journalist, and ends in honest and sage advice to his younger self.
We live in a time full of readily accessible information on the internet, yet some people assume that more information would equate to more wisdom in society – but is that always the case?
It’s not always the case, but that would probably reflect my bias! News today is defined by technology, and technology means speed. Everyone wants the story now, and there’s just not enough time for people to reflect on the bigger picture – let alone the journalists!
That means that the wisdom, as you’ve said, is almost gone. As a journalist, there’s not enough time to really think and ask, “should I put this story up? or not?” Many editors today would just tell the journalists to put it up.
“As a journalist, there’s not enough time to really think and ask, ‘Should I put this story up? or not?’ “
It’s what we’re seeing now, and it’s a dangerous thing. As a reaction, we see too many people fighting and bullying one another as well as the rise of hate speech.
Part of that wisdom comes with experience too. In the old days, the media was led by chief editors who were in their 60’s and 70’s. Now, they are in their 30’s – it’s a big age difference in the amount of life experience. Editors today are faster and more aggressive, but one element that’s missing is that wisdom which usually comes from the years of experience.
“It’s a big age difference in the amount of life experience.”
As a person who works with, and makes sense of information, how do you go about turning it into wisdom for a better world?
I simply have to give myself time to really sit with the story I’m working on. These stories will consequently impact those whom I’m writing about, and those who will be reading them. It’s not a form of censorship, but the cultivation of a degree of wisdom that is necessary for good journalism.
There are times where I won’t put out a story because the consequences would be severe for the people. There has to be a moral component to journalism – something that is disappearing in this age of competition always trying to be the first.
Often, journalists know they’ve gotten the story wrong, but just put it out anyways! You can’t do that. Being in print, we learn more from our mistakes, but when publishing online, you can quickly remove a story.
“There are times where I won’t put out a story because the consequences would be severe for the people.”
Do you think journalists need to be reminded of that responsibility?
As writers, we need to understand that we have the power to influence, and that power brings responsibility. Anyone serious about this profession will always go back to the basics – which means having a sense of public service. Journalism is a type of public service and many people have forgotten that.
Of course, we need to put up a story fast, but it needs to be credible and accurate. If you could choose between speed and accuracy, which would you choose? Accuracy of course.
“As writers, we need to understand that we have the power to influence, and that power brings responsibility.”
In this fast world we live in, I’ve mentioned the need for re-training journalists to cater to a niche audience that wants to know the story behind the news, though the number of people in that particular group might be smaller.
But that’s something that many journalists are just not equipped to do, because many traditional journalists are trained to simply tell things as they are. They are essentially trained to tell the punchline at the beginning, and so, people lose the incentive to read beyond that – but I feel there’s an art to storytelling that can still convey the news, but is engaging and relevant.
“They are essentially trained to tell the punchline at the beginning.”
Looking back from where you are now, what are some of the things that you have personally loved most about both your life and career?
I’d say, it would be the formality it brings, compared to other jobs! On a daily basis, I don’t really need to dress up or be too rigid!
But mostly, the joy is from the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life; from those who are marginalized, to those in power. I don’t think there’s any other job that gives you the privilege of meeting all these people, and having them want to talk to you because they have stories to share – that plays a big role in the enjoyment of being a journalist.
Another one would be that I get to tell those stories – some of which I get to know before anyone else! There is a feeling of satisfaction I get that you just can’t put a value on. It’s the reason why many journalists accept jobs, even though the pay is low.
So many journalists can get better paying jobs with the skills that they have, but they stay journalists because of that feeling; it outweighs having the small salary!
“There is a feeling of satisfaction I get that you just can’t put a value on.”
From all your interactions and experiences with different people of different backgrounds, have you noticed any universal obstacles we seem to share, either as individuals or collectively, that hinder the unity and common ground many of us desire?
I have this internal debate on what unity is, and this is my opinion after growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, when the government kept promoting unity, but we as a people didn’t have freedom. Maybe unity is the ultimate goal, but it is something that has to come from each of us voluntarily. We tried to impose unity in East Timor, but they didn’t want it because we didn’t give them total freedom. We can’t just impose unity.
Unity shouldn’t come at the expense of people’s freedom. To me, freedom comes first. If the outcome of that freedom means that we are united as one nation, one family or one community, then that’s great.
“Unity shouldn’t come at the expense of people’s freedom.”
However, with individual freedom, we have to work to make sure that each one of us feels safe and has a sense of belonging. That’s the unity I believe in, but it’s definitely a challenge. It’s something we wish for as a nation, but as a democracy, we have to go through elections and polls etc. Unity is a process.
Despite conflicts and tensions, unity is good and is something worth fighting for, but not with the use of force: that sense of unity has to come from within.
“With individual freedom, we have to work to make sure that each one of us feels safe and has a sense of belonging.”
Knowing what you know now as a journalist, what advice would you give your younger self?
I started the job when I was 18, and I think I was a little arrogant! As journalists, we think we know everything, but we don’t.
In fact, we often make mistakes, but with that being said, humility is an important part of this profession of writing, and probably every profession! So my advice would be to have humility in knowing that you’re not as great as you probably think you are – with all your flaws – but carry on and do your job.
I’m sure I’ve lost a lot of my friends and professional colleagues because of my attitude – so humility is something I teach in journalism. It’s the first quality you need.
If you would like to get in touch with Endy, you can do so at:
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org